Monday, April 28, 2008

The day my life changed forever

Tuesday, May 6, is the third anniversary of the day that changed my life forever. Well, the first of many days that changed my life forever. During the spring of 2005, I was a PhD student about 6 months from finishing my degree, I had been in touch with a couple of potential postdoc advisors, and I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I decided that the best time to have our first baby was between finishing my degree and starting a postdoc position, and, low and behold, it looked like all of our plans were falling into place. Then I went in for my first ultrasound. At 20 weeks we went in to make sure our baby was healthy and to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. The ultrasound technician rubbed jelly across my belly, rubbed the wand around my bulge to get everything nice a goopy, and then casually uttered those fateful words, “oh look, there are two babies in there.” Yep – we were having twins. Before getting pregnant, I kind of had some, well for lack of a better word, fantasies about combining motherhood with a science career, but all of those imaginings were for only one baby. How would I manage to fit two children into my career? At the same time? I had absolutely no idea. At that point, I kind of just tossed my plans out the window. Whatever would come would come and I would deal with it as it came. I would finish my degree and figure out my life later.

It turns out that it was a good thing I chose a “take it as it comes” approach because my life was about to get even less predictable. Four weeks after learning I was going to have twins, I had symptoms of preeclampsia and two weeks after that my doctor told me to go home and “lie around like a lazy dog” for the rest of my pregnancy. And that is what I did for the next 8 weeks until my twins were delivered six weeks prematurely. After two exhausting weeks in the NICU, Baby Girl 1 was discharged, and our lives seemed to be getting to a place where we could establish a new normal. But a week after that Hurricane Katrina hit. We were actually, very, very lucky that the storm did not hit us directly and that we only lost electricity for four days. But the result is that they needed space in our NICU for all the babies being evacuated from New Orleans, and Baby Girl 2 was discharged, in my opinion, before she was ready and with medical issues that would we would deal with over the next year. Our new normal was now life in a too small apartment with two infants in a city that gained 10,000 extra people overnight. And I was a full time stay at home mom to a medically challenged infant, and I had no idea what was going to happen with my career. Certainly, all hope for finishing my degree and starting a postdoc in the foreseeable future was gone. What would the future hold?

Fast forward three years. My girls are now active almost 3 year olds who have mostly outgrown their medical issues and have “caught-up” with their full term peer. I have finished my PhD and now have a postdoc position at a large university in the lab of a National Academy of Science member. My life and career are back on the previously plotted course. Or are they? One major effect of the events of 2005 is that I am no longer sure of my career goals. There are days that I am not confident that a science career is even right for me any more. Balancing the demands of home and career is more difficult than I ever imagined. My kitchen is never clean and there are toys and dirty clothes everywhere. I’m not confident that I am getting enough done at work? I never know if I am coming or going. Is it worth it? Would my family be better off if I stayed at home, kept the house clean and cooked healthy dinners every night? Would my daughters be better at home with me than at daycare? Then there are other days when I want to be a scientist, but I’m not sure I am in the right field. There are days when my very basic research on insects seems frivolous. Shouldn’t I focus my attention on something that would save lives? Very little is known about what causes preeclampsia, should I leave entomology and study human development? Instead of studying insect development, should I study something more related to human health? I now have friends who have either lost children who were born too early. Other friends now face a lifetime of caring for children with cerebral palsy or other extreme physical challenges. Should I focus my research on preventing and/or treating premature birth? There are people all over the U.S. who lost everything in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Should I get a job at a non-profit organization and help people who have nothing? Or should I just stay at home with my girls and make sure they have the best start possible. The answer is, I just don’t know. I know that things are really hard right now and I’ve lost a lot of the passion I once had for my job. But that may just be from the exhaustion of trying to keep my career going and keep up with two preschoolers. There is a reason I became a scientist – because I love science. I love doing research. I love studying insects! So for now, I’ll stick with the plan I came up with three years ago. Keep going and everything will sort itself out – I hope.

Friday, April 4, 2008


Lately I’ve had a small problem with procrastination. Well, to be honest, I have a big problem with procrastination, and it’s bringing me down. Checking my email and reading blogs and internet message boards are my big downfall. But a couple of online games and comic strips should also be included on the list of things that prevent me from getting my work done. In effort to combat this lack of productivity, I turned to the internets for tips on curing procrastination (cause using Google to learn about issues in my life is a productive waste of time, don’t ya know), and I found an entry on Wikipedia on procrastination. This is what it says: “Procrastination is a type of behavior which is characterized by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite procrastination as a mechanism for coping with anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.” Wow, that really hit home. Especially the part about anxiety. You see, the tasks I’ve been I have been putting off are all work related. Specifically, I need to submit two articles for publication. And I am anxious about putting myself out there. I don’t want my scientific work, that I’ve put heart and soul into for the last many number of years, to be criticized and one way to avoid criticism is to keep it to myself. Of course, if I don’t publish, then my career comes to a screeching halt. And the thought of failing at my chosen profession brings its own anxiety with it. So, I procrastinate. Wiki goes on to say: “For the person procrastinating this may result in stress, a sense of guilt, the loss of personal productivity, the creation of crisis and the disapproval of others for not fulfilling one's responsibilities or commitments. While it is normal for individuals to procrastinate to some degree, it becomes a problem when it impedes normal functioning.” Yep. Right again. And the cycle goes on and on and on. Anxiety and stress making me unproductive because my lack of productivity makes me anxious and stressed. So, how do I break the cycle? I can’t just turn off my computer because I need it to do my job. Fortunately, Wiki has some information on that too (don’t you just love Wiki? Its a great way to kill a couple of hours and learn something at the same time). Specifically, there is a link to a collection of podcasts on overcoming procrastination, and other links to articles and tutorials on overcoming procrastination and academic success, and even a tutorial to overcome procrastination. Wikipedia even has a Wikibook on Overcoming Procrastination. Wow, I could really spend a lot of time procrastinating while reading/learning about procrastination. However, as helpful as these resources may be, I'm not sure these articles would really get to the proximal cause of my procrastination - the fear associated with being criticized by my peers. I think the only real way to just do it. Screw my courage to the sticking place. Develop a hard outer shell. Take a breath and jump into the volcano. Fortunately, Wiki has suggestions for doing just that.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

To do:

  1. Set up HPLC and figure out how to write time series methods.
  2. Find some postdoctoral fellowships to apply for and, well, apply for them.
  3. Finish manuscript revisions for PhD research.
  4. Write brilliant posts for my blog since there appear to be people who actually read it occasionally.
  5. Play with my kids. They keep asking for a tea party, after all.
  6. Teach A and K that pooping on the potty is better than pooping in their pants.